Off-the-Beaten-Path: The Outdoor Adventurer's Guide to a Weekend round Boulder

Terry Stonich
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Boulder, Colorado, is a seductive place—the kind of town where people come for a year and stay for life. Most locals here have heard of Chief Niwot’s curse, which—while likely just legend—still rings true: The beauty of Boulder means you will never be able to leave. But it’s not just the beauty that allures. Voted among the best places to live, best cities for cycling, best college towns, foodiest, greenest, fittest, smartest, most vegan-friendly, happiest, skinniest, and worst-dressed city that looks the best naked, Boulder has such a long list of accolades, it’s tough to believe this paradise really exists.

Come see for yourself. With an almost absurd amount of outdoor recreation out the back door, along with restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops to suit every taste, Boulder is the perfect town to spend a superlative weekend that you’ll talk about for years.

Where to Get Caffeinated

The Laughing Goat's milk art adds to the coffee shop's creative vibe.
The Laughing Goat's milk art adds to the coffee shop's creative vibe. The Laughing Goat

Boulder loves coffee. It seems you can barely walk half a block in town before encountering yet another unique coffee shop. Most exude a welcoming vibe, inviting you to linger over a hot cup and engage in stimulating conversations or work projects.

Stepping into Amante is like being transported to Italy. This coffee shop oozes Euro-culture, complete with sleek styling and a bar that serves up not just caffeinated beverages but a selection of booze to boot. It’s especially popular with cyclists, who come to fuel up after rides, or watch the Tour de France live in July.

A hangout for artistic types, the Laughing Goat overflows with creative funk, right down to the milky designs in their drinks. The wood-paneled coffee bar, warmly colored walls, and framed prints welcome you to settle in for a spell, especially at night, when the Goat hosts live music and literary performances on its stage.

Boxcar Coffee Roasters charms with exposed brick walls and tasty pastries.
Boxcar Coffee Roasters charms with exposed brick walls and tasty pastries. Avery Stonich

Boxcar Coffee Roasters roasts its own beans in small batches to ensure the perfect cup. Sharing a space with Cured —an artisan meat, cheese, wine shop, and gourmet grocery—Boxcar offers a variety of cozy nooks to chat with friends or bust out some emails.

In the trendy West Pearl neighborhood, Ozo Coffee Company serves delicious brews as well as Bhakti Chai in a hip, yet homey atmosphere. If you fall in love with their coffee, as many do, you can pick up bags of beans in the store or sign up for a coffee subscription delivered to your door. For a totally decadent treat, dig into one of their bacon-topped maple donuts.

The Cup gets all of its coffee from Conscious Coffees, a craft micro-roastery in Boulder that sources only organic beans from small family farms. In addition to enjoying a hot beverage at The Cup, you can also tantalize your taste buds with a selection of delicious pastries, bagels, salads, and sandwiches.

Where to Hit the Trail

Taking to the trails at the base of the Flatirons
Taking to the trails at the base of the Flatirons Terry Stonich

With 145 miles of trails in a vast open space network surrounding the city, Boulder is a great place to bring your hiking shoes. Slather on the sunscreen, bring plenty of water, and be prepared for heavy breathing since the sun is strong and the air is thin at 5,430 feet. Here are three top trails. For other options, check out the Quick and Dirty Guide to Some of Boulder’s Best Hiking .

Nestled at the base of the famous Flatirons, Chautauqua Park is the starting point for dozens of hikes up into the hills west of the city. Choose from trails that meander alongside lush streams, cross enchanting mesas, lead you to a natural rock arch, or climb to the top of 8,000-foot peaks.

Taking a break in the sunny
Taking a break in the sunny Terry Stonich

Boulder’s beloved and dog-friendly Mount Sanitas at the west end of Mapleton Avenue offers several options, from a fairly relaxing stroll up Sanitas Valley to a steep grunt to the top of the 6,863-foot peak, or a combo of both in a sturdy three-mile loop.

With 2,400 feet of elevation gain over 5 miles, Bear Peak is a great way to get in a good workout that rewards those who visit with 360° views that stretch to Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park, and the snow-capped Continental Divide. Choose from a couple of different routes, or combine a few. For bonus points, continue over to South Boulder Peak.

Where to Go Climbing

Enjoying a summit view after a climb in the Flatirons
Enjoying a summit view after a climb in the Flatirons John Montague

Boulder is worth a trip for rock climbing alone. World-class slabs and crags beckon just a stone’s throw from downtown, so bust out your chalk bag and head for the hills. Here are some great places to check out. For more ideas, see the Quick and Dirty Guide to Some of the Best Climbing in Boulder .

Anyone who likes climbing can’t resist the Flatirons, those giant rock slabs that tilt up dramatically at the western edge of town. Get up early and spend the better part of a day knocking out a 1,300-foot multi-pitch climb. With more than 1,000 routes, the options are practically endless.

Eldorado Canyon State Park, just south of Boulder, is world famous for rock climbing. The towering sandstone walls rise up on either side of a narrow canyon, creating an awe-inspiring backdrop for trad, sport, and top rope climbs that run the full gamut of difficulty.

If you’re after granite crags, head for Boulder Canyon, which begins where Canyon Boulevard ends at the west edge of town. You’ll find easy access to dozens of routes, from easy to exhausting, that dot the roadside for 12 miles.

Where to Paddle

Gone paddlin' on Boulder Creek
Gone paddlin' on Boulder Creek Terry Stonich

With a gushing creek running straight through the center of town, Boulder is spoiled with close-in paddling. Just be prepared for cold. The water comes straight from Rocky Mountain snowmelt and is frigid—which can be bone-chilling or can offer welcome relief on a hot summer day.

Boulder Creek originates at Barker Reservoir in Nederland and flows down Boulder Canyon through the heart of Boulder. West of town, you can run the rapids only if you’re a whitewater champion. Otherwise, put in just west of Eben G. Fine Park and have a blast along a ½-mile purpose-built whitewater course. As snowmelt increases, the creek morphs from Jekyll to Hyde, so beware of heavy runoff, which sometimes prompts the city to prohibit paddling.

If you’re not a kayaker, rent an inner tube and take a laid-back approach to floating through town.

South Boulder Creek is a good bet for advanced paddlers who want to put their skills to the test on class IV and V waters. You can start at Gross Reservoir for a thrilling 6.7-mile paddle to Eldorado Canyon State Park, or opt to run just the last mile in the park—a good place to see if you’re up for the full challenge.

If flat water is more your speed, head to Boulder Reservoir, a popular spot for standup paddleboarding. You can bring your own board or rent one on-site. Put in at Dream Cove, to the left after you pass the entrance station (and pay a fee). Be prepared for winds that often kick up on summer afternoons.

Where to Unwind

The tap room at Avery Brewing Company has 30 cold brews on tap.
The tap room at Avery Brewing Company has 30 cold brews on tap. Avery Stonich

After a full day of charging through the hills, you’ll find plenty of places in Boulder to fill your belly and toss back a cold one. Brewpubs abound, and inviting eateries are so abundant, it’s tough to choose.

Hippies will feel right at home at Mountain Sun, a downtown Boulder institution that features tie-dye adorned walls, dozens of craft beers brewed on-site, and an affordable menu of pub food. Its cousin, Southern Sun, offers a similar experience at the south end of town. And just underneath Southern Sun, Under the Sun is a slightly more upscale experience, with a wood-burning oven, smoked meats, and fireside living room.

If you’re after a cold draft, check out Avery Brewing Company, which just relocated to a new 67,000-square-foot space, complete with expansive brewing facilities, a taproom, and restaurant. You’ll find 30 beers on tap, including many available only on-site, a sun-drenched patio, and a tasty menu with a Southern flair. You can even take a guided brewery tour, or grab a growler to go.

KT's dishes up "real good" Memphis-style BBQ.
KT's dishes up "real good" Memphis-style BBQ. Avery Stonich

KT’s BBQ , home of “real good” Memphis-style barbeque, has two Boulder locations, which lure you with mouth-watering meats and irresistible sides that won’t break the bank. Order a meal in a basket or toss it all together in a bowl for a high yum factor. You can even sign up for BBQ school if you want to learn the tricks of the trade.

For another casual meal option, head to Illegal Pete’s, a hip eatery that serves up tasty burritos, nachos, quesadillas, salads, and other Mexican-American fare you can wash down with a beverage from the full bar. Late night munchies? No problem. They’re open until 2:30 am on weekends.

You'll fill your belly alongside a full bar at Illegal Pete's.
You'll fill your belly alongside a full bar at Illegal Pete's. Illegal Pete's

Happy hour at the The Mediterranean is a Boulder mainstay, with a huge selection of reasonably priced tapas in a lively setting. Choose from wood-fired pizzas, bacon-wrapped dates, hummus, calamari, and more. Or settle in for a full meal, relaxing in the large dining room or out on the patio in a festive atmosphere decorated with colorful tiles.

Where to Get a Good Night’s Rest

The Boulder Mountain Lodge is transforming into the place for adventurers to stay.
The Boulder Mountain Lodge is transforming into the place for adventurers to stay. Boulder Mountain Lodge

After a full day and night of playing in Boulder, you’ll want somewhere convenient to rest your head. Pick a place downtown or nearby so you can get home safely on foot or in a cab.

Just a few miles up Boulder Canyon, Boulder Mountain Lodge was recently purchased and is being transformed into the Boulder Adventure Lodge, a go-to lodging spot for adventure lovers that will include a hostel room, campsites, slackline park, mountain bike trail, and community room. The first stage of renovations will be complete by June.

St. Julien Hotel and Spa in downtown Boulder is the place to go for a truly romantic getaway. While somewhat pricey, it’s well worth the splurge, with stunning mountain views, a full-service spa, ridiculously comfortable beds, and lots of special touches that make this luxury hotel feel uniquely Boulder.

The St. Julien is a romantic dream come true.
The St. Julien is a romantic dream come true. St. Julien Hotel

When it comes right down to it, you can’t go wrong with a weekend in Boulder. It is so gorgeous, the weather often so perfect, and there’s so much to do, you’ll find yourself desperately trying to figure out a way to stay longer than you planned. Chief Niwot was onto something when he settled here.

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